There’s a lot of good news about relief efforts to Haiti. As just one example, Haiti-born musician Wyclef Jean’s online and mass media efforts to help his home country have raised $400,000 in the first day. Yet, at the same time, there is a strong current of racism directed toward Haitians that may hinder relief to this devastated Island nation.
In a conversation with Dr. Goddess on Twitter yesterday, she brought my attention to the casual racism of this individual (if her profile is to be believed, a young, white female who loves both beer and Jesus in equal measure):
But surely, I can hear the objections now, this is just the misguided rant of an uneducated person. This young woman is surely an outlier, the exception, rather than the rule. Perhaps. About the same time, I heard the reports of Rev. Pat Robertson explaining what had happened in Haiti:
“…something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, Napoleon III, or whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said we will serve you if you get us free from the French. True story. So the devil said okay it’s a deal, so the Hatians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since then they have been cursed by one thing after another. Desperately poor, the island of Hispanola is one side, on the one side is Haiti, on the other side is the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts et cetera, Haiti is in desperate poverty. They need to have, and we need to pray for them, and out of this tragedy I’m optimistic something good may come, but right now we’re helping the suffering people and the suffering is unimaginable.”
So, rather than a proud history of resisting colonial oppression, Haitians are – in Robertson’s mind – aligned with the devil. This seems rather stark racism, in my view, but certainly coat-and-tie racism. While it’s easy to dismiss Robertson as a crank, his Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) has a global television audience. CBN was at one time the largest supplier of 24-hour cable programming in the world, claiming to reach 66 foreign countries through 150 local stations, 2,500 satellite cable systems, and even through the U.S. Armed Forces Radio and Television Network. Although the influence and reach of the network has declined in recent years, it would be a mistake to underestimate Robertson’s influence on his audience. The Haitian Ambassador, Raymond Joseph, offered an eloquent rebuttal to Robertson’s nonsense on Maddow’s show last night, saying:
“I would like the whole world to know — America especially — that the independence of Haiti, when the slave rose up against the French and defeated the French army — powerful army — the U.S. was able to gain the Louisiana territory for $15 million. That’s 3 cents an acre. That’s 13 states west of the Mississippi that the Haitian slave revolt in Haiti provided. Also the revolt of the rebels in Haiti allowed Latin America to be free. So, what pact the Haitian made with the devil has helped the United States become what it is.”
Unfortunately, Maddow and the rest of MSNBC do not hold much of the audience share compared to conservative outlets, such as Fox. So, while this thumping by the Haitian Ambassador is getting lots of play by liberal and left-leaning bloggers, it’s not making much of a dent in the conservative reverberation chamber.
And, that brings me to the largest (ahem) conservative pundit of them all, Rush Limbaugh, sometimes referred to as the de facto chair of the Republican party. Limbaugh seems to be the hands-down leader so far in efforts to use racism to hinder relief efforts to Haiti. His recent remarks on the earthquake:
“In the Haiti earthquake, ladies and gentleman, in the words of Rahm Emanuel, ‘we have another crisis simply too good to waste,'” the conservative talk show host remarked. “This will play right into Obama’s hands, humanitarian, compassionate.”
“They’ll use this to burnish their, shall we say, credibility with the black community, in the light-skinned and black-skinned community in this country,” Limbaugh added. “It’s made to order for them. That’s why he could not wait to get out there. Could not wait to get out there.”
In fact, as Allen McDuffee points out at his blog, Governmentality, it’s right-wing organizations like the Heritage Foundation, that are eyeing the Haitian earthquake opportunistically.
Limbaugh also suggested falsely that the U.S. has “already donated” to Haiti through U.S. income. Limbaugh, like Robertson, would be easy enough to dismiss were it not for the large audience his show commands and the rather remarkable political power he wields.
And, then there is the liberal racism of mainstream television shows that obsessively report about white, Western victims of the earthquake while spending comparatively less time on the majority of indigenous, Haitian residents, as if whiteness is the sine qua non for personhood and empathy.
Whether or not racism – from the crass Twitter comments, to the racist propaganda of Robertson and Limbaugh, to the white hegemony of television talk shows – will hinder relief efforts to Haiti, only time will tell. My hope is that this crisis will, in the words of Ferentz Lafargue, prompt us to think not only “about Haiti’s plight today, but to whatever extent possible two years and two decades from today” (h/t @dumilewis, @DavePurcell).